If you have an incoming kindergartener or ever experienced the emotional first day of school for your growing child, the latest picture book from Hyewon Yum, Mom, It’s My First Day of Kindergarten!, may resonate with you. If you celebrated the big send-off with a glass of wine—while pouring the bubble bath and yelling “FREEDOM FOR ME, SUCKAS!”—this may not be your book so much. If leaving your child at the classroom door felt a lot like dropping your heart off in the hands of the teacher, you’ll nod your head a lot.
Lots of people have made picture books about this very subject, but leave it to Yum to do so with such emotion, cleverness, and, well…color. It is, after all, emotions that Yum tends to explore so well in her picture books, as the starred Kirkus review for this book notes.
The tables have been turned here: “Mom, wake up! It’s my first day of kindergarten!” is the opening spread. And this isn’t just a boy waking up his mother, excited about his first day of school. It’s an oversized boy, looking an awful lot like the grown-up, and a tiny, shrunken, blue-faced mother, hiding under the covers.
The mother is worried: “Do they have snacks in kindergarten? What if you don’t have time to finish your sandwich at lunch?...Did I pack all your school supplies?...Will you be okay in the big kids’ school?...Oh, it’s such a big school. You could get lost here.”
In the midst of all her anxiety, the mother in these opening spreads remains small, blue-hued, and as invisible as possible—all with the type of simplified, stylistic frown on her face that looks as if drawn by a child, perhaps even in crayon.
Yep, it’s the child that must calm the parent. “Mom, don’t worry! I’ll be fine, I am already five!”
Colors get transferred, mind you. When a friendly mother says hello to our fretting one, who had been previously stressed about not knowing anyone at the new school, her blues turn to yellow. When the young boy sees the open classroom door and suddenly realizes he’s “not ready for this,” the mother is not only fully yellow with no trace of blue, but she stands tall, looking down at her regular-sized child and sighs, “I’m sure you’ll be fine in kindergarten.”
Yum plays freely with size and color in these manners, as both mother and child experience a range of emotions. The end-of-the-day hug between mother and child is touching and spot-on, and I highly recommend seeing it with your own eyes. Yum also wraps things up with a rimshot of an ending, proving that those parental anxieties are never quite eradicated.
Will this one resonate with children as much as their grown-ups? Find a copy and experiment. My own young children, when I asked them why they thought the mother was so small, responded that she must simply be a short person. It took more discussion about Yum’s choices for them to really get it. But, as it should go without saying, each child is different. Responses will vary, and it may take multiple readings.
I raise my glass to those nervous parents on the first day of kindergarten—and wish them lots of yellows, little to no blues, and even that glass of wine, if they are so inclined.
And a copy, of course, of Yum’s new book.
Spread from the book is copyright © 2012 by Hyewon Yum and used with her permission.
Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog focused primarily on illustration and picture books.